March 25, 2022

Lowering Math Standards Harmful for Arizona Students and the Future of the State

If HB2278 were to pass students could have fewer postsecondary and career path options

By: Rich Nickel

When Arizona’s education community and business leaders challenged high school students to meet more rigorous graduation requirements in math and science in 2013, students responded. While some were worried that graduation rates would decrease and more students would drop out, we actually saw the opposite.

Now, some legislators want to roll back the requirements in math and allow certain students to skip Algebra 2 and graduate with three years of math, instead of four.

House bill (HB) 2278 proposes doing this by creating two tracks for students: one with lower requirements in math and another that keeps the existing requirements.

What worries us the most about HB2278 is that it could lead to tracking of students, meaning those students with perceived academic abilities could be shepherded into the more rigorous track and others will be moved into the lower level track. It could also lead to schools tracking students into lower-level mathematics as early as middle school.

This has the potential to impact students from traditionally underrepresented communities the most, including low-income students and students of color. Instead of being on course to master complex mathematics, students in the lower track will be put on a path that will make it difficult to succeed in the college courses necessary to prepare them for good jobs, further damaging our state’s workforce and economy.

This is especially important because in Arizona, 7 out of 10 jobs require postsecondary education or training.  Additionally, our state universities require four years of math for entry, including Algebra 2. But it’s not just universities; the military entrance exam includes topics covered in Algebra 2 as well.

Knowing that math can be a tough subject for some students, the existing high school graduation requirements already give students flexibility in meeting the Algebra 2 and the requirement of four years of math. That flexibility means that students can opt to pursue a different class instead of Algebra 2, including a course in career and technical education (CTE), economics, science, computer science or art as determined by individual school districts. Students can also use a personal curriculum to opt out of Algebra 2 or graduate with three years of math. Students don’t need to fail Algebra 2 before pursing either of those options.

What we’ve found is that many students, educators and counselors may not know that this flexibility exists already. There’s an opportunity to build awareness about this so more students are aware that they have this option.

There’s also an opportunity to explore whether other courses could substitute for Algebra 2. Some have been identified, but there could be others that could give students more options to meet the graduation requirements.

HB2278 would create greater inequities that would result in some students being better prepared for life after high school. It also is asking the state to implement greater flexibility in meeting graduation requirements, much of which already exists.

Instead of lowering requirements and creating greater inequities for students, let’s ask instead: what will it take for Arizona students to be prepared for life after high school whether they pursue a job, military service, a community college, advanced training or a university?

Let’s ensure that our students are all on a path that best prepares them for their futures beyond high school and helps Arizona strengthen our workforce and maintain the strong economy we have today.

Rich Nickel is the President and CEO of Education Forward Arizona. Education Forward Arizona believes that improving the quality of education in Arizona will improve the quality of life for all Arizonans.